Monday, 30 June 2008

Chateau-Thierry

Just an hours drive east of Paris through the A4 is the town Château-Thierry. It's located beautifully by the Marne river and is a historic site.
There are traces of civilization all the way back to the iron age, and a secondary Roman settlement was made on the other side of the river thriving on the river crossing. On a hill close to the river is an old fortress ruin settlement which dates all the way back to the 9th century. In the beginning of the 19th century the most of the castle was razed and now only the fortifications and a gate is left. The area is now a wonderful park with a beautiful view over the city and the nearby areas.

During the summer there's a living museum and re-enactment which shows how people lived in medieval times. It's a group called Virges Armes which is behind the re-enactment. Crafts, shows, workshops, entertainment for children, education, acting and so on.

To important battles were fought in Château-Thierry; one in 1814 during the Napoleon war and one in 1918 during the first wolrd war. There's now a big American monoment for their fallen soldiers a short distance from the town.

The well known writer Jean de La Fontaine was born in Château-Thierry 8th of July 1621. he is known for his fables about animals which were used as disguise for political messages in a time where normal citizens couldn't say their opinion about nobility too openly.

Another good reason for visiting the town is that it is located in the area that produces Champagne. It is on the "Route touristique du Champagne", which is a sightseeing route passing through the Champagne region and brings you to the best and most interesting champagne producers. Of course you can find wine cellars and tastings in the vineyards.

http://www.virgesarmes.com/
http://www.tourisme-en-champagne.com/

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Cider and pineau

If there is one thing we know France for, then it's wine, champagne and cognac. For us who live here there's a few other possibilities and specialities, which we can get to know. My two favourites are pineau and cider.

You can't avoid seeing cider on the menu-card if you go to a crêperie. And if you want to eat crepes as the French does it, then you have to drink cider with it. The dry cider (brut as we know it from the champagne) is surprisingly enough very suitable with both galette (crepes with meat and cheese filling) as well as with crepe sutette (the desert crepes).

French cider is found in two versions normally. Sweet and dry. The strength is between 5% and 8%, so quite stronger than the Swedish cider, but milder than the English. When you buy cider in the supermarkets the prices are quite reasonable. From less than 2€ up til perhaps 6-7€ depending on quality and brand for a 75cl bottle. It's served best cool, but not cold. Give it time to recover on top of the visit to the fridge.

Pineau is a wonderful experience in itself. It's produced in the same area as cognac, and is made from the same grapes. It's a sweet strong wine (17-22%), often with hints of honey or flowers. It is most often served as an aperitif and at a temperature between 8 and 10 degrees in tulip shaped glasses. It's found in a white and rose version.

The legend about Pineau des Charantes tells that a winegrower in 1589 during the harvest happened to pour fresh grape juice onto a barrel where there was already cognac. The barrel was stored away and some years later there was need of the barrel due to a good harvest. The farmer was surprised over the wonderful drink in the barrel, clear and golden like the sun in the Charantes region.

Don't forget to try the local specialities when you're visiting. It's certainly worth it and I'll bring home a couple of bottles when I visit the family back in Denmark, so they can taste the golden drink.

http://www.pineau.fr

Monday, 23 June 2008

Opéra de Paris

Opéra de ParisPalais Garnier is also known as Opéra de Paris. It was officially opened in 1875 and was the national opera until 1989 when Opéra Bastille was built.

The project started in 1861 but wasn't completed before the end of 1874. The construction of the opera had many obstructions and accidents. One of the greatest problems was that the building was being built on top of an underground lake which first had to be emptied. That took 8 months of constant pumping. Other delays were due to the French-Prussian war, which almost completely stalled the project. Finally, January the 15th, 1875 the opera could be opened with a lavish gala performance at the joy of Paris.

Several years later the opera experienced a tragic accident where a contra weight for one of the chandeliers fell and killed a person. All these accidents and events around the opera inspired Gaston Leroux to write his great novel, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, which later has been made into a film several times as well as a musical.

The opera has room for 2.200 spectators and is 11.000 square metres. The great scene has room for 450 actors and the central chandelier weighs over 6 tons.

It is one of the places in Paris you must visit.Opéra de Paris

Praktical information:
Officiel website: http://www.operadeparis.fr/
RER:
Line A, stop Auber
Line E, stop Haussmann - Saint-Lazare
Metro:
Line 3, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13 og 14
Stop: Opéra, Havre-Caumartin, Saint-Augustin and Saint-Lazare

Friday, 20 June 2008

RER - the connection to the suburbs

RERRER (Réseau Express Régional) is the train system which connects the suburbs with Paris. It is fast and very effective. There are 258 stations and 587 km tracks. In Paris proper there are 33 stations and they have direct connection to the metro. Line A has up to 55.000 passengers per hour in each direction, which is the highest in the world outside of Japan.

The system is built on zones as we know it from Denmark. Paris itself is zone 1 and then you'll find the zones in rings around Paris. There are 6 zones. Disneyland is in zone 5 on the line A, while the airport Charles de Gaulle is on line B in zone 6, and the airport Orly is at the other end of line B in zone 3.

Several of the RER stations are also SNCF stations, which is the national railway. They cover the less dense areas and other towns around Paris' suburbs. Normally you just need one ticket no matter which railway you take.

There are machines on all stations, also the metro, where you can buy tickets for the RER. You purchase the tickets directly from station to station and you don't need to think about the number of zones. All credit cards with chip can be used or you can pay with coins. The machines are also in English and other languages, so you don't need to fight the French phrases.

A ticket is valid between the two zones it's bought for and has to be kept until you leave the final destination. All stations in zone1/Paris are just named Paris and you can change directly to the metro without buying a new ticket. You can also get of the train a station or two before your destination and still get through the control machines. The problems only arise if you get of the train too late. Luckily it's easy to get to the other track and catch a train heading back again.

If you have to travel several times between two stations, or in a group, it's always worthwhile to buy a "carnet" holding ten tickets. There's a significant discount.

Practical information:
http://www.ratp.fr/ - Here you'll find travel plans between all stations in Île-de-France, as well as maps, schedules and prices.
http://www.sncf.fr/

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Arche de Triumphe

The triump arch is second only to the Eiffel tower as a landmark of Paris. The building is impressive when you get close to it. Big and massive, filled with figures and ornaments. It is 49,5 metres high, 45 metres wide and 22 metres deep.

It is located at the top of the Champs-Élysées at the Place Charles de Gaulle (also known as Place de l'Étoile). There is a beautiful view over the Champs-Élysées down to Place Concorde and the Louvre from the arch. If you gaze the other way, you will see la Defence and the new triumph arch which was designed by the Danish architect Johann Otto von Sprekelsen.

The arch honours thouse who fought for France, especially for Napoleon and his triumphs, and it has the names of the great battles, generals and other French triumphs during the wards. The battle of Waterloo which Napoleon lost is of course not mentioned. The project was started in 1816, but wasn't finished before 1836 because of the fall of Napoleon and a new French government. The style is inspired by Titus' arch in Rome and is meant to surpass the Roman triumphs. It is a beautiful building and certainly worth a visit.

Under the arch is the tomb of the unknown soldier, with an eternal flame in memory of the fallen French soldiers during both world wars. The flame was lit in 1920.

Access to the arch is free, though it costs to enter the building and see the fantastic view over Paris.

Practical information:
Metro/RER stop: Charles de Gaulle - Etoile, line A, 1, 2 og 6